With a more competitive format this time around, All-Stars this year gave spectators a good sense of how the competitive meta is shaping up with Runes Reforged. Champion pools haven't changed much from previous tournaments, but one pick did manage to turn heads: Top Lane Annie, initially picked by LPL’s 957, and later by LMS’ Ziv.
Annie Top as a Counter to Gnar
In order to understand the Annie pick, we need to look at the matchup she was picked against in all 3 All-Star games: Gnar.
Gnar was the most picked top laner at the event, with 12 games played, and the third most contested (pick or ban) top laner after Jayce and the near permabanned Ornn. In the recent KeSPA Cup, he showed up as the most played top laner.
Why Is Gnar so Important to Counter?
Mini Gnar’s range advantage over tanks allows him to harass melee opponents with Boomerang Throw (Q) and Hyper (W) procs. On top of that, Runes reforged also gave him a powerful rune page, with Aery and Scorch lending extra poke and allowing him to keep trades shorter (and safer) than they were when he relied on Fervor of Battle in Season 7.
Simply hitting a single 1100 range boomerang will proc both runes, which is enough poke damage to force an opponent away from the minion wave and thus gaining control over how he wants to play the lane. If shoving is needed to facilitate a top side jungle invade, for example, Gnar will likely have priority over his opposing top laner. His range allows him to easily break or maintain freezes in minion waves, as well.
Gnar is also a more self sufficient toplaner than, say, a champion like Jayce, who frequently requires help from his team (either with ganks or by ensuring the matchup stays at an isolated 1v1). If Gnar is ever behind, it’s not nearly as problematic as Jayce, as he will still be strong so long as he hits his two item power spike (typically Black Cleaver and Frozen Mallet).
Finally, while Gnar is picked mainly for his split pressure, he can function in a teamfight role much better than the typical split pusher, making him more versatile.
Other Gnar Counters
Different Gnar counters have appeared over time. Yasuo was once popular, as Windwall (W) and Way of the Wanderer (Passive) allowed him to mitigate a lot of Gnar’s damage, while Sweeping Blade (E) allowed him to get in range to trade and also dodge Mega Gnar abilities.
Camille is a more recent counter, picked with the intent of matching the split push and winning the duel after buying her core items. Adaptive Defenses (Passive) mitigates damage in trades, and The Hextech Ultimatum (Ultimate) can dodge Gnar’s own skills, including his ultimate.
Where Does Annie Fit into All of This?
Annie’s method of beating Gnar is a bit different from the two champions mentioned above. Her auto attack range of 575 units is superior to Mini Gnar’s 400 to 500 (it increases with level). Disintegrate (Q), Incinerate (W), and Tibbers (R) all exceed Gnar’s auto range as well.
She also runs Aery and Scorch and can easily proc them if Gnar ever moves up too close to auto the minion wave. She wins trades with the burst from a Q-W-auto combo, and provided she stacks up her stun with Pyromania (Passive), she won’t allow Gnar to trade back.
In the scenario that the trade does extend and Gnar is allowed to auto Annie, she can activate the low mana cost Molten Shield (E) to reduce damage and also return magic damage to Gnar.
In all three All Star games, Annie also maxed Incinerate (W) to clear minion waves faster. Together with Disintegrate's mana and cooldown refund on kill, Annie can quickly push waves and gain lane priority.
Outside of the 1vs1 Matchup
Annie brings more to the table than just being able to beat Gnar. What truly makes her scary is the ability to instantly AoE stun a player (or players) with Flash+Tibbers. In all 3 games, Annie bought Ionian Boots of Lucidity and ran Cosmic Insight to decrease the cooldown of her Flash.
In addition, the new Hextech Flashtraption allows her to go for more Tibbers surprises while her flash is down. While it requires preparation, good vision control will increase her ability to pick off isolated targets.
Annie Top Setup
If you want to try Annie Top Lane versus Gnar, we have a cheat sheet here right for you. You may be asking if there are any other matchups you can run it against, and LPL top laner 957 gave some insight on this in his recent All Stars press conference:
“I think that Annie right now, in this meta, is only really good against less tanky top laners such as Kennen or Gnar. It’s a pretty good counter against them, but aside from them... it's probably not the best pick.”